Innovation Diversity: Heralding Emerging Champions in Cleantech

Cleantech Group celebrates diverse innovation by highlighting fresh perspectives needed right now in cleantech. In 2022, less than 2% of total U.S. VC funds raised went to women-owned startups; 1% and 1.5% to Black and Latino founders, respectively. Unfortunately, in 2023, these figures decreased to embarrassingly low numbers.  

Fortunately, we know that the cleantech ecosystem fosters and embraces innovation across a wide range of voices. The 2024 Global Cleantech 100 highlights trailblazing innovators delivering remarkable solutions to current global challenges. But what about those not recognized with the prestigious Global Cleantech 100 award? 

The cleantech landscape is rapidly evolving with new faces joining the industry every day. Research shows that diverse operational teams are more likely to foster environments for innovation than those with homogenous groups. Diverse operations deliver a wider range of perspectives to anticipate and identify challenges and opportunities for innovation. 

Embracing diverse perspectives unlocks more effective strategies for mitigating and adapting to the climate crisis, conserving rapidly depleting resources, and building resilient communities. Cleantech innovation can help relieve the exaggerated devastation and impact that rural and developing communities around the globe are already experiencing. But ultimately, adopting a diverse ecosystem isn’t just about equal representation for social license. 

If the same institutions that are decimating ecosystems are to build out the low-carbon economy, we will continue to see global issues persist. It’s the perspectives of changemakers who’ve been directly impacted by the effects of inequity and disparity in resource distribution that are delivering next-gen solutions. We see time and time again innovators founding start-ups based on personal experience with the technology they’ve developed.  

But passion and drive are not enough to deliver solutions when no one with power knows a technology exists. We’ll start here by calling out emerging champions tackling today’s biggest issues.  

Innovators Pushing into Uncharted Territories 

Woman-founded Sleaktek is a developer of biomass waste-derived single-use plastics alternatives, founded by Juliet Hull and Joy Lawrence. Sleaktek’s products are naturally biodegradable with little trade-offs in durability as they have a shelf life of over three years—and without shedding microplastics or nanoplastics. Sleaktek is aiming for cost-parity with conventional plastics without handing off a premium cost to its customers. 

Tunisian-owned Kumulus Water is a provider of atmospheric water generation solutions, founded by Iheb Triki. Kumulus Water offers a decentralized and fully autonomous solution to produce 20-30L of drinking water per day from the humidity in the air using solar power. Its solution aims to reduce plastic pollution from single-use water bottles while delivering water to the over 1B people without access to potable drinking water. 

Israel-based and woman-founded GeneNeer is a developer of gene-editing and breeding technologies for crops, founded by Kinneret Shefer and Oded Shoseyov. GeneNeer’s solution expedites the centuries-old technique of crop-breeding and delivers more resilient crops to prevent the spread of viruses, fungi, and pests that would otherwise negatively impact yield. Its solutions circumvent the need for chemical treatment that pollutes the environment and are potentially harmful for human ingestion. 

Behind-the-Scenes Cleantech Ecosystem Players  

There also exist additional cleantech ecosystem players establishing foundations behind-the-scenes for game-changing innovation to thrive. These include bespoke decarbonization strategies, developing policy, specialized accelerators, novel financing programs, and more.  

LGBTQIA-owned Relentless Energies, founded by Bret Kadison, provides strategic consulting services, including business model innovation and go-to-market strategies, and policy and regulatory strategies to firms across the energy transition. This is a keystone, often overlooked, solution to transitioning to decarbonized operations. 

Greentown Labs and Browning the Green Space (BGS) partnered on the Advancing Climatetech and Clean Energy Leaders Program (ACCEL) to support BIPOCC founders. The program not only offers its portfolio members mentorship from industry experts but also $25K in non-dilutive grant funding. 

Woman-owned Vyld is a developer of menstrual period products from seaweed material, founded by Ines Schiller.  Vyld launched its self-developed sustainable financing instrument, the Future Profit Partnership Agreement (FPPA), to launch its first product, Kelpon. The FPPA offers profit share and gives Vyld financial independence to raise funds outside of conventional equity rounds. Schiller is leveraging financial expertise from her time developing financial instruments as a film producer.  

Out in Climate is a non-profit dedicated to creating a community for LGBTQ+ professionals engaged in climate change and the energy transition founded by LGBTQIA+ industry experts. The NYC-based group hosts networking opportunities and educational sessions that bring together founders, industry experts, advocates, and civic and corporate leaders. Out in Climate is committed to diversifying the cleantech landscape through mentorship, exposure, and community building.  

These are just a few of the leaders propelling the cleantech ecosystem forward. It’s incremental change that is sustained (pun intended). We know that it’s our readers who are emerging start-ups and changemakers at VC firms, corporates, government agencies, etc., that will transform the landscape of successful cleantech innovators.   

At Cleantech Group, we’re proud of our expanding network of visionary leaders shaping the future of cleantech. Please join us in championing diverse, minority-owned innovators by sharing your favorites. 

Meet our List of Innovators with the Technologies and Determination to take us from Commitment to Action in the Sprint to Net-Zero